The Return of National Security
The news from around the world is about war, political intrigue,
and espionage. The obsession with free and fair trade, global
interdependence, and economies without borders has evaporated over
the past year or so.What we are experiencing is the reassertion of
traditional understandings of nationalism and of national security
and the decline of the ideology of globalism. The return of
conflict among nations to the center stage of history and in the
daily newspaper is the important news. The nation-state, far from
declining, is vigorously reasserting itself, with the inevitable
accompaniment of bullets and blood.
It is occasionally useful to step back from the issues dominating
the news to consider some of the deeper and more important
processes that are underway in the world. When we do that, something
quite startling leaps out at us. Perhaps what is most startling about
it is that we should be startled at all, for the return of national
security at the center of global concerns is merely the return of the
world to its natural order. After a decade of hearing about the
decline of the nation-state and the triumph of globalism, the fact is
that the nation-state and nationalism are vibrantly alive. It follows
from this that concern for the security of the nation has superceded
the globalist visions of "the world without borders" and the
transcendence of politico-military issues by denationalized economic
entities and forces.
This is not a local, parochial evolution. This weekend, NATO forces
are engaged in combat against Serbia. U.S. aircraft are flying combat
air patrols over Iraq. Indian air and land forces are engaging
Pakistani forces. Secret talks are going on between Syria and Israel
over the Golan Heights. CIA and FBI counter-intelligence people are
working desperately to try to figure out what Chinese intelligence
acquired, when they acquired it, and how it will affect the regional
and global balance of power. Russian covert operatives are trying
influence events in the Caucuses. In short, the world is returning
its normal state in which politics, war, and espionage - along with
economics - are the natural currency among nations.
This is startling only in the context of some of the things that were
being said less than a decade ago. In the minds of some, the end
the Cold War marked the end not only of an era in history, but of a
fundamental, millennial shift in how the world worked. According
many extremely practical and influential people, the end of the
Cold War inaugurated a new era in which commercial and economic forces
had supplanted political and military issues. From Tokyo to Bonn
New York, there was a general consensus that borders had become archaic
and meaningless and that they had been rendered so by the globalization
of economic life.
The dynamics of economic life, this theory went, had taken us to a
point where international trade had created an intensifying
interdependence among nations. Markets were so intimately tied together
that the disruption of any one market would disrupt all other markets.
This made war and even deep-seated political conflict unthinkable, since
war and conflict would inevitably disrupt economic and commercial
relations which, in turn, would wreak havoc on not only the combatants,
but also on third parties who would be affected by any hot or cold war.
Given this, even if two nations were inclined to engage in intense
politico-military competition, their irrationality would effect the
interests of other members of the international community immediately,
who would act to suppress this disruptive behavior.
Consider the case of U.S.-Chinese relations. Under this theory,
intensifying commercial relations between the two countries had
reached such a point of intensity that both countries had a fundamental
interest in maintaining and expanding them. Each country would suppress
any action that might disrupt those relations. Thus, it began to
as if the fact that China was a communist country was purely incidental,
an archaic legacy rendered irrelevant by commercial interests and in no
way incompatible with its splendid relations with the capitalist world.
Similarly, deep-rooted geopolitical issues, such as China's relationship
with Taiwan, were regarded as archaic. Taiwan, China and the United
States all wanted the same thing: robust economic growth fueled by
international trade and investment. The issue simply appeared
meaningless in the broader context of globalization and interdependence.
The China example can be universalized to a general theory of how the
world worked. From China to Russia to Germany and the United States,
the fundamental assumption was that economic issues had supplanted all
other issues. Thus, the geopolitical devastation of Russia, giving
an empire it had taken centuries and endless blood to accumulate, was
seen as unimportant compared to the opportunity for economic growth
that participation in the global economy promised. In Europe, the
desperate fight for national sovereignty of every nation seemed trivial
compared to the opportunities for economic growth that the European
Union promised, even if that meant subordination of sovereignty and
security to the EU's irresponsible and corrupt upper bureaucracy.
There was a general sense that economic interests and commercial
possibilities had supplanted all other considerations, including
national identity itself.
There were two roots to this theory. The first was that global
economic interdependence had now risen to unprecedented levels that
changed the rules of the international system. The claim was
plausible. It wasn't true. International merchandise trade
cross border investment were no higher in the early 1990s than they
were in 1913, measured against Gross Domestic Product. What had
occurred was an optical illusion. International trade and investment
had collapsed after World War II. By 1990 they had struggled back
not quite the same level as they had achieved in 1913. Now, 1913
important year, since World War I broke out a year later. Since the
1913 level of interdependence had not prevented World War I, there was
no reason to believe that lower levels in 1990 had abolished the
politico-military dimension. So one root of the theory, the assumption
that interdependence had reached unprecedented levels, was simply untrue.
The other assumption was that interdependence increased cooperation.
The problem with that assumption was that interdependence was a constant
over time,and that everyone always benefited equally from interdependent
relations. Take the case again of China. During the early 1990s,
investment and loans flowed from the West to China. By the late 1990s,
the flow had slowed down and China was facing the fact that Western
interests owned substantial portions of the most dynamic sections of the
Chinese economy. Indeed, the loans were coming due and, in spite
China's trade surplus, paying some of those loans could prove difficult.
The interdependence remained, but the benefits shifted. As the benefits
shifted, each party sought to manipulate the other's actions, leading to
friction. The friction didn't arise in spite of interdependence;
arose because of interdependence.
These two fundamental misreadings of the international system gave rise
to a theory in which global relations rendered nationalism meaningless
and archaic. In this view, the multinational corporation (MNC),
regardless of its origins, had no home and no obligation to anything but
its investors. It had no task but the maximization of return on capital.
And with the rise of the MNC, it was believed that the real news was to
be found on the business pages.
The event that shattered this view of the world was the Asian economic
meltdown. It did this in two ways. First, it is easy to ignore
politics, domestic and international, in times of extraordinary
prosperity. Distributing wealth is easy. Distributing scarcity
more difficult. As Asia's economies declined, each nation struggled
maintain its internal stability. Some like Indonesia failed.
like China, succeeded, at least until now, by increasing repression.
Others, like Japan, maintained stability by refusing to make the radical
changes needed to refloat its economy. Each nation went its own way
domestically. As domestic realities shifted, national interests shifted
as well, both within Asia and between Asian countries and the rest of
Second, and perhaps more important, was the dog that didn't bark.
According to globalist theory, the integration of world financial markets
meant that a major downturn in any one market would inevitably have
substantial effects on all markets. That simply didn't happen.
collapsed in 1997. American markets continue to move to new heights,
do many European markets. The question, "What effect Asia's
would have on the global economy?" has been answered: very little if any.
The Asian collapse challenged globalist theory while at the same time
resurrecting Asian nationalism. Indeed, that nationalism has been
the rise throughout the world. We do not mean, by nationalism, the
extreme manifestations we see in the Balkans or among some Russians.
We mean by nationalism something much simpler and more profound.
First, we mean the resurrection of the idea that there is a shared fate
within nations, and that being an Egyptian or Japanese or American is a
profoundly important, defining component of someone's personality which,
in turn, defines a shared interest and fate among compatriots. In
extreme form, it means that dying for one's country makes rational sense
in a way that economists simply don't understand.
Second, we mean that the nation is not simply an arena for economic
activity, but is, in addition, a political and a military entity.
There is no such thing, outside of academic departments, as economics or
politics as distinct entities. Every nation is simultaneously an
political, military, and moral entity distinct from all other nations.
That means that nations do not simply engage in economic activity, but
they engage in politics, war, and espionage - a host of things. What
defines a nation is its place in the world and its people. Everything,
economics, politics, and security derive from the nation's geopolitical
reality. A place needs to be exploited and defended. Hence
and war go hand in hand.
What is startling about the news this weekend is that the news is not
about finance or trade. The news is about politics, war, and espionage.
What is startling is that we should be startled. The Indians know
Kashmir is important, as do the Pakistanis. The Serbs know why Kosovo
important, as do the Albanians. The Syrians know why the Golan Heights
important, as do the Israelis. None of these things are mysterious,
that they have been rendered incomprehensible by economists who have a
one-dimensional view of human behavior and who have never understood the
centrality of the community and nation in human behavior. The intellectual
force (and wishful thinking) driving globalism was the world-view of the
When we step back and view the world carefully, it is clear that we have
returned from the land of globalist fantasy. This doesn't mean that
have returned to the Cold War. That is over and buried. However,
essential characteristics of the Cold War - a dangerous place filled with
political intrigue, espionage, and warfare - have returned. To be
precise, the essential reality of the world has reasserted itself.
not a passing phase. It is the way things are. This means that
country's leadership will be asking about providing for the national
security - as a precondition for providing for the national prosperity.
The countries that ask that question first and best will have a tremendous
advantage over those who avoid the question.
National power matters. Economics is only one dimension of a nation's
power. Indeed, very poor nations have conquered very wealthy nations.
National security is about economic interests but it is also about much
from national morale to weapons development, to espionage agencies.
about being feared and being respected by other nations. It is, above
about power, in the fullest sense of the word. That is why the real
is on the front pages again where war and peace are discussed. The
pages are what you go to after you assure your nation's security.